By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As all gardeners know, what you grow and how you grow it – whether from seed or start – will change. Not always according to plan.
The lease comes up in January, explains orchard steward Narcissa Nelson, and decisions need to be made.
One possibility that sprouted unexpectedly – though potentially, Narcissa says, serendipitously – is that the orchard could become a college project.
All along, one of the intentions for the eighth-of-an-acre plot has been that it would be involved with food security for the area. Eastern West Seattle is a known “food desert,” after all. Along with being a place for growing and harvesting food, the orchard has also been a teaching venue – including workshops on permaculture.
We talked with Narcissa this week at the orchard, within view of its espaliered apples (above) and raised beds growing everything from tomatoes to herbs to squash; earlier in the season, strawberries, collards, parsley, kale. She explained that the college has started a food-pantry program, with an interest in access to fresh food, and the need is increasing. This growing space could become part of that.
COWS already is part “giving garden,” with food harvested for and donated to the White Center Food Bank. Part of it also has been open for community “forage,” though its visibility is minimal – it’s between a fence and a forest, separated from the nearest public road – 16th SW – by SSC’s sprawling north parking lot.
What it really needs, Narcissa explains, is consistent support for maintenance. Student/school involvement could provide that.
In the early going, the thought was that COWS could become a large-scale food-production site for the community. Early involvement was strong, especially from Puget Ridge neighbors. But many of them, Narcissa has noticed, are now focused on growing their own gardens. “A lot of people who were inspired locally have moved on to their own thing, and it’s beautiful – we were a demonstration garden, hoping to inspire people.”
Another thing that has changed: The orchard at one point had a paid manager, funded by a grant. She moved away. What project funding there is, still stems from the original grant.
But the decisions to be made aren’t about money or a lack of it. They’re about the right future for the orchard/garden and its space, whether that’s as the Community Orchard of West Seattle or something else, Narcissa says.
It’s time, she says, for open discussion. “At one point, the community asked for this” (the orchard) – “a lot of people put work into it over the years. This is yours.”
So what do you think its future should be? For starters, you can weigh in via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.